Dancing With the Stars is all about the themes nowadays. Classical. American. Broadway. Latin. Rock. ‘80s. It's almost out of control. There was a time when DWTS had no themes — just dances. The downside of that: How many times can pros choreograph, say, a Paso Doble without running out of ideas? The themes give the couples a fresh boost of inspiration, but they don’t always work out as planned. Themes really started on Season 10, returned in force on Season 11 and took over Seasons 12, 13 and now 14, with the upcoming Week 6 set to the new theme of Motown.
Here are some of our favorite and least favorite themes from the past few seasons:
Best: Movie Night — Season 10’s Week 5 and Season 13’s Week 4
Because themes were still new, Season 10’s Movie Night was a breath of fresh, exciting air. The set looked cool in big Hollywood lights. Erin Andrews & Maksim Chmerkovskiy did a kick-butt Jive to "You Never Can Tell" from Pulp Fiction. Pamela Anderson showed off her acting chops as Dolly Parton in 9 to 5. Jake Pavelka took off his pants for a Risky Business Cha-Cha-Cha to "Old Time Rock and Roll.” And Kate Gosselin admitted she’d never seen The Breakfast Club. It was memorable and fun. Season 13 also did Movie Night proud, especially with Ricki Lake & Derek Hough’s instant classic Tango to the theme from “Psycho.” Genius.
Best: Personal Story Week/Most Memorable Year — Week 3
On Seasons 10 and 11, Story Week just meant the dance had to tell a particular story, like Audrina Patridge & Tony Dovolani Waltzing to the story of a soldier returning home. Now it seems like every week the couples already have a particular story for their dance, because they all like getting into character. So now we have Personal Story Week, where the celebs choose the music and we learn a lot about each star’s past. The personal connections make such a difference every season, like future winners J.R. Martinez & Karina Smirnoff dancing a Rumba to "If You're Reading This" in honor of his return from Iraq. Week 3 has become so known for this theme that Season 14’s Katherine Jenkins said she was just hoping to get to the third week of competition so she could dance in honor of her father. She did a Waltz that earned the first 10s of the season. It’s a very important week and always gives us the warm and fuzzies.
Best: Instant Choreography Week — Week 8
At first, this sounded like an awful idea. You're going to make couples choreograph a dance without music, then give them their songs right before they perform? Why? That’s dumb. Then Season 11’s Kyle Massey & Lacey Schwimmer did their Instant Jive to "Good Golly Miss Molly” — and we realized it was the best idea ever. Exciting. Unpredictable. So much fun. Now it’s something of a Week 8 staple and we have to expect Season 14’s Week 8 will be just as great as the past three seasons.
Best: Classical Week — Season 12’s Week 4
Classical music is just plain sexy; we already thought that going into the week. Then we saw hot violinist David Garrett and gorgeous soprano (and future Season 14 star) Katherine Jenkins and everyone knew it. When the music is this passionate and powerful, it elevates the dances. It was a great theme choice across the board — from Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” to “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter. Just magical. Do it again!
Best: Broadway Week — Season 13’s Week 6
DWTS is a live song and dance show, so of course it’s perfect match for Broadway! We saw some great dances this week, from Ricki & Derek’s "Luck Be A Lady" to J.R. & Karina’s amazing "Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago. And who can forget the kitsch appeal of Nancy Grace & Tristan MacManus honoring Monty Python’s Spamalot with a Foxtrot to "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life"? Yes, the week was overshadowed by The Broadway Brawl between Maks and judge Len Goodman, but the theme was great and deserves to be revived in a future season.
Best: Latin Week — Season 14’s Week 5
The Salsa and Samba are fun party dances that usually include peppy songs, brightly colored costumes and shirtless men. The Argentine Tango means sexy, intense passion and exciting tricks and lifts. Season 14 put them all together in Latin Week. And it was good. A strong Argentine Tango is hard to beat and we had three pretty great ones on Week 5, especially from Latin Brad Pitt/James Bond William Levy, who owned the night — appropriately enough — even though his Tango tied with Katherine Jenkins.
Worst: Past Iconic Dances and Team Dances — Season 11, Week 7
It was an interesting redux idea, but they shouldn’t do it again. Couples were asked to recreate a past “iconic” dance from a previous season. We missed seeing new choreography. Plus, bringing back past stars like Mel B and Drew Lachey as guest judges wasn't too smart since they just adored seeing their old routines again; there were too many 10s handed out without merit. Then there were the "Team Dances" led by past winners Kristi Yamaguchi and Apolo Anton Ohno, who seemed to be captains in name only. The whole week was just an excuse to bring back veterans for a special episode. We're always happy to see old faces, but at Week 7 we really want to see new routines critiqued carefully, not empty cheerleading from old friends.
Worst: American Week — Season 12, Week 5
From Ralph Macchio's Samba to "Sweet Home Alabama" to a cheesy Foxtrot to "Yankee Doodle Dandy," it was a good idea that didn't really come to fruition. Except for Maks going shirtless for "American Woman." Just do that every week and we're fine, all's forgiven.
Worst: Guilty Pleasures Week — Season 12, Week 6
Not guilty enough. Not pleasurable enough. It's a weird idea that's hard to translate into a dance and no one really figured it out. Romeo Miller and Chelsea Kane ended up with the first 10s of the season this week, but it was after doing normal dances — and Chelsea didn’t even have a guilty pleasure song! “Walkin’ on Sunshine”? With all the guilty pleasure songs out there, that’s what you pick? Disappointing.
Worst: TV Theme Week — Season 11, Week 5
It’s such a great concept, and it should probably be revived, but for some reason it really went wrong here. Bristol Palin & Mark Ballas put on monkey suits to Jive to the theme from The Monkees and Bristol ended up losing her steps. Florence Henderson did a Tango to The Brady Bunch theme and that song is not really suited to the Tango. It felt like a forced gimmick instead of a way to inspire and elevate dances. Although it was not as successful as we had hoped, it was pretty funny. It is hard to Foxtrot to the theme from Charlie's Angels, but Kyle & Lacey made us bust-up laughing at their attempt. It was so unfair of Len Goodman to give them a “5” for it — it’s not their fault the theme, song, dance and costumes didn’t belong together!
Worst: Rock n Roll Week — Season 11’s Week 6 and Season 14’s Week 4
Season 11’s Rock Week was best known for the costumes, including Maks’ pleather pants, put to good use in his Tango with Brandy to "Holding Out for a Hero." We also got the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, which Brandy & Maks won. Love, love, love the marathons. But Season 14’s Rock Week was cursed. It was filled with spills, mistakes and Melissa Gilbert banging her head against Maks’ leg. Everything went wrong and the scores took a dip. The costumes and hair were still fun, but it’s time for Rock Week to hang up its guyliner and retire.